How to Take Still Portraits with the Canon Rebel T/51200D - dummies

How to Take Still Portraits with the Canon Rebel T/51200D

By Julie Adair King, Robert Correll

The Canon Rebel T/51200D if well equipped to take still portraits. Assuming that you do have a subject willing to pose; the classic portraiture approach is to keep the subject sharply focused while throwing the background into soft focus, as shown in the figure below


This artistic choice (known as a short depth of field) emphasizes the subject and helps diminish the impact of any distracting background objects in cases where you can’t control the setting. The following steps show you how to achieve this look:

  1. Set the Mode dial to Av and rotate the Main dial to select the lowest f-stop value possible.

    A low f-stop setting opens the aperture, which not only allows more light to enter the camera but also shortens depth of field, or the range of sharp focus. So dialing in a low f-stop value is the first step in softening your portrait background.

    However, for a group portrait, don’t go too low or else the depth of field may not be enough to keep everyone in the sharp-focus zone. Take test shots and inspect the results at different f-stops to find the right setting.

    We recommend aperture-priority autoexposure mode (Av) when depth of field is a primary concern because you can control the f-stop while relying on the camera to select the shutter speed that will properly expose the image.


  2. To further soften the background, zoom in, get closer, and put more distance between subject and background.

    Zooming to a longer focal length also reduces depth of field, as does moving closer to your subject. And the greater the distance between the subject and background, the more the background blurs.

    A lens with a focal length of 85–120mm is ideal for a classic head-and-shoulders portrait. But don’t worry if you have only the 18–55mm kit lens; just zoom all the way to the 55mm setting. Avoid using a short focal length for portraits. They can cause features to appear distorted.

  3. Check composition.

    Just two quick pointers on this topic:

    • Consider the background. Scan the entire frame, looking for background objects that may distract the eye from the subject. If necessary, reposition the subject against a more flattering backdrop.

    • Frame the subject loosely to allow for later cropping to a variety of frame sizes. Your camera produces images that have an aspect ratio of 3:2. That means your portrait perfectly fits a 4-x-6 print size but will require cropping to print at any other proportion, such as 5 x 7 or 8 x 10.

  4. For indoor portraits, shoot flash-free if possible.

    Shooting by available light rather than flash produces softer illumination and avoids the problem of red-eye. To get enough light to go flash-free, turn on room lights or, during daylight, pose your subject so he is lit by a sunny window.

    In Av mode, keeping the flash closed disables the flash. If flash is unavoidable, see the tips at the end of the steps to get better results.

  5. For outdoor portraits in daylight, use a flash if possible.

    Even in daylight, a flash adds a beneficial pop of light to subjects’ faces, as illustrated in the figure below.


    A flash is especially important when the background is brighter than the subjects, as in this example; when the subject is wearing a hat; or when the sun is directly overhead, creating harsh shadows under the eyes, nose, and chin. In Av mode, press the Flash button to enable flash.


    One caveat about using flash outdoors: The fastest shutter speed you can use with the built-in flash is 1/200 second, and in extremely bright conditions, that speed may be too slow to avoid overexposing the image even if you use the lowest ISO (light sensitivity) setting.

    If necessary, move your subject into the shade. Your other option is to stop down the aperture (use a higher f-stop setting), but that brings more of the background into sharp focus.

  6. Press and hold the shutter button halfway to engage exposure metering and, if using autofocusing, to establish focus.

    The One Shot AF mode using a Manual AF Point Selection works best for portrait autofocusing. After selecting a focus point, position that point over one of your subject’s eyes and then press and hold the shutter button halfway to lock focus.

  7. Press the shutter button the rest of the way to capture the image.